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You have worked long and hard and put a lot of thought and compromise into your Separation or Divorce agreement. You and your lawyer crafted each article carefully and defined your rights and obligations, settling your case with dignity. Good work. But just because the ink is dry, the deal may not be done.
Do not simply store that Agreement away, out of sight, hoping to forget the difficult times that led to the end of your marriage. That Agreement is a road map for the next few years, if not the rest of your life. Each agreement contains your rights – what you are entitled to, your obligations and what you have to do. Many spouses are just glad it is over and neglect to ensure that the terms are actually followed.
It is common for someone to notice that their spouse has failed to meet his or her obligations. Support is not paid on time, or a promised life insurance policy is never produced, among others. In such cases, we all want what we bargained for to be fulfilled, but what about the obligations on the other side?
For example, let’s say you are the one to retain the marital residence. It is common for the Agreement to include time provisions for you to refinance a mortgage, buy out your spouse and take over costs such as utilities. Failure to do these things on a timely basis can leave you in breach of an Agreement. If that Agreement has been incorporated into a final Judgment of Divorce, you can also find yourself in contempt of court for failing to fulfill the judge’s order. Failure to timely act on your rights and obligations can also result in you waiving certain rights.
Back to the house example, many agreements say that a party has a certain number of days to decide if they want to retain the house or not, and if so, to provide written notice to their spouse. Failure to provide that notice within the designated time frame can find that right waived and forever lost. Also common is an obligation to exchange annual income confirmation so as to adjust child support contributions. Failure to do so, or to demand compliance, can result in a loss of a support adjustment.
It is strongly recommended that you re-read your Agreement at least once each year, making note of any obligations you must comply with, as well as those required of the other party. If you or your spouse are out of compliance, be sure to seek the assistance of an attorney to determine the pros and cons of obligations and/or the best strategy for obtaining compliance.
Barbara J. King is the chair of Tully Rinckey PLLC’s Family and Matrimonial Practice Group. A partner-level attorney, Barbara represents clients in divorce, separation, equitable distribution, annulment, child support, child custody, spousal maintenance and adoption proceedings.